'Breaking the bias' this IWD22

PCC Emily Spurrell side view on at top of police HQ

International Women's Day is an important day in our calendar - find out what it means to Merseyside's Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell.

What does IWD mean to you?

IWD is an opportunity to celebrate the brilliant social, cultural and political achievements of women around the globe. The day is also an opportunity to call for greater action for accelerating gender parity.

We live in a world that was designed by men, for men and IWD is about giving women a voice so we can design a world for women and girls that enables them to be safe and reach their full potential.

It’s important that we fight back against gender stereotypes at every level, challenge misogyny in all its forms and act to build a more equal, progressive future where women can thrive and succeed.

This also means we need to build communities where a woman’s most basic rights and safety is prioritised – so women are safe and protected from all forms of harm, recognising the gendered nature of lots of these crimes against women.

Tackling VAWG was a key part of your platform when you stood for election. What did you set out to achieve for women in Merseyside, and what progress do you feel you've made?

Tackling Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is an absolute priority for me.

I’ve made it a core focus of my Police and Crime Plan for Merseyside for the next four years. I am in the process of appointing a VAWG lead in my office and plans are underway to hold a major summit where we can bring everyone across Merseyside who has a role to play in tackling VAWG together to drive change.

My goal is to make our region safer for every woman and girl. There’s a lot of work to do, but there is a real shared commitment across all partners to make a genuine difference.

Since taking office, I’ve already secured £4m of extra funding for our region. The vast majority of this has gone into addressing violence against women and girls, tackling perpetrator behaviour and providing greater support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

I am currently reviewing the way victim support services are delivered across our region to make sure every victim of crime gets the right support, in the right way, every time and significant improvements are planned in the months ahead.

I’ve also increased the scrutiny of the police response to these crimes to ensure that women are believed and taken seriously when they report crimes to the police. I am closely monitoring the efforts by the police to further improve the way investigations are carried out and the response given to victims. I am also working with criminal justice partners to examine how and where we can change the system to make it easier and less painful for victims to navigate. Too many victims walk away from a courtroom feeling let down and retraumatised, rather than empowered.

I continue to run my Domestic Abuse Workplace Scheme which works with employers to ensure they have the right policies and procedures in place for employees who disclose abuse, so they are given the right support.

Just yesterday, I launched a campaign, working with our partners, to tackle street harassment and violence against women on public transport. The campaign will look to raise awareness of what constitutes a crime, how to report any incidents on the transport network and, importantly, send a clear message that this violence won’t be tolerated.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, but there is lots of work being done and my determination to make society safer for all women and girls continues and I hope to make more progress towards a tackling VAWG strategy over the coming months.

Women's safety has been in the news a lot the past 12 months, do you think any thing has changed nationally? What still needs to be done?

After the tragic murder of Sarah Everard there was an outpouring, an avalanche of grief and anger from women across this country who spoke of their own personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse.

This shone a much-needed spotlight on the scale and depth of the issue of VAWG. There does appear to a be a greater awareness and understanding at a national level that there is an epidemic of VAWG taking place in our country which urgently needs addressing.

This has led to some progress with support in the House of Lords, for example, for misogyny to be made a hate crime and the Government recognising domestic abuse and sexual assault under the definition of serious violence. This is in no small part to the voices of women calling for change and a commitment to end VAWG in all it’s forms.

However, we still have a long way to go. We still do not see the same outcry in the media about the women who die behind closed doors at the hands of their abuser, as it is all too easy to ignore. The recent revelations at the Met police also demonstrate just how deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes are and the work that is needed to root it out.

We need fundamental system-wide change right from the top to drive a bold shift in thinking, backed up by sustained, appropriate funding at a national level and a new statutory framework if anything is to really change.

The issue of VAWG is deep-rooted and embedded. An evidence-based strategy for addressing the behaviour of perpetrators and preventing these crimes is essential if we are to stop them from taking place in the first place. This should also include investment in education around healthy relationships in our schools.

We must radically improve the criminal justice outcome rates for survivors of VAWG and ensure that anyone affected by these traumatic crimes gets the right response, every time. A consultation has recently being carried out on the Victims’ Bill and the creation of a long overdue Victims’ Law. This has the potential to be a crucial moment to change the system for the better, ensuring it is designed to support and care for victims, truly listen to their voices and put their needs and experiences at the heart of the process.

How can PCCs make sure this equality at the heart of everything they do?

Equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of my work and it is a core principle running through my entire Police and Crime Plan.

When we develop strategies for tackling VAWG we must make sure that we recognise the unique experiences of every woman and that any action plan works for all women whether they are black, lesbian or disabled.

Within my office, I have established an equality programme to ensure it is a key consideration in every decision we make and every initiative we fund, at every level of our work.

I also closely monitor the work carried out by Merseyside Police to improve diversity and equality within its own ranks including ensuring any new officers recruited better reflect the diversity of the population they are there to serve. This has been the focus of one of my public scrutiny meetings and I will hold the Chief Constable to account on delivering improvements year on year. I will also be recruiting independent members to sit on my scrutiny board to challenge the Chief Constable and better reflect the diversity with my constituency.

Policing is based on the principle that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’. We will only have the full trust and confidence of all our communities when they believe the rights and interests of every member of the community are represented.

What would you ask people to do to help to campaign for, and achieve, gender equality?

For the women reading this, I would say the most important message I can give is to just speak out. Whether it’s signing a petition, sharing a campaign on twitter, or writing to your local MP or even running to be a Councillor, MP or PCC.

Your voice is so important, and we need to make sure that women and girls are better represented throughout society, so we are in the room when decisions are made.

For the men reading this, I would ask you to make sure you use the spaces you have to amplify the voices of women, think about how you can support the cause for better representation of women in all walks of life and reflect on your own behaviours and how you can make women feel safer.